It took me about six months to realise that if I ever wanted to move beyond my entry level position I was going to have to do postgraduate study. I began working as a Library Assistant at the Alexander Turnbull Library in 2013 when I was hired on a four month contract. I, along with one other, was brought in to map the national newspaper collection along with a few other projects that needed doing. Luckily for me, I was able to move from the contract and into a permanent Library Assistant role. Two months later, when the feeling of ‘where is this job taking me?’ kicked in, a made the decision to return to study.
I am a Museum and Heritage Studies student at Victoria University of Wellington. I am in my second year of part time study, completing the Masters qualification while I continue to work full time at Turnbull. It can be difficult at times. It’s a demanding course and trying to fit it around a full time job can be draining. But I have come to the rather unsurprising realisation that the combination of work and study might just give me the opportunities I need.
By studying, I am provided with opportunities that I would never get in my day to day work. I have visited a conservation studio, undertaken a research project while on my 200 hour placement, and had the opportunity to meet people from all over the heritage sector. I am gaining a wider awareness of the sector, and about the ideas and theories that exist within it. The course strives to provide practical learning experiences as well as theoretical. But the fact of the matter is that university will never truly exist in reality. Students are always given so much more choice than ever is available when you are at the beginning of your career.
Being a student and a worker can sometimes be an odd combination. I can see my fellow classmates come in to my place of work while on their placement and instantly be given more responsibility and more opportunity than would ever be offered to me in my library assistant role. As a student, I am able to choose where I go and what I do for my placement. On the other hand, in my entry level position, I am definitely not able to pick and choose the work that I do. It’s about doing the mundane stuff, because you are inexperienced and emerging, and if you don’t want to do it, someone else is more than willing to take your place. It’s good to experience the dull, mundane and administrative side of work. This is after all, a large part of what we will all end up doing.
Your own expectations are higher when you’re on your placement. You expect to be allowed access in to meetings, to be asked your opinion, to do work that will extend you. But surely 200 hours does not an expert make? You are mistaken if you think that after five weeks of full time work, you are set to call yourself a collection manager or a curator. Placements are an amazing opportunity to glimpse inside a workplace. They are able to offer insight into a field that can often feel closed off. They can help you make decisions – do you want to work in a museum, or a library? Do you want to work with collections, or with the public? Do you want to undertake research, or work in policy? They also give you a wide range of experiences that might just set you apart from the screeds of other people applying for every vacancy there is. 200 hours may help you in this sense, but it absolutely does not make you an expert.
At this very moment, what is most important to me is that study helps me to feel that I am headed somewhere beyond my entry level position. I don’t feel ‘stuck’ like I may have done in the months leading up to my decision to go back to university. The opportunities that study gives me, the glimpses into the different areas of work, and the networks that I am now a part of all solidify this decision. But it is probably my library assistant role that I am most thankful for. It has given me grounding in the heritage sector, and an understanding of what it is like to truly be at the beginning of your career. It is giving me the opportunity to learn from the ground up. I am grateful to have been given this highly sought after ‘foot in the door’ which has already benefitted me in the form of a secondment to a different position at Turnbull. My foot is solidly ‘in the door’, and combined with study, perhaps I’ll be able to sneak a whole limb through.